Thoughts on the Fair Elections Financing Act

Someone asked me what I thought about about the Fair Elections Financing Act .  On a first read through and based on my experience running under the Clean Elections Law in 2002, the proposed law has serious flaws. 

Problems with the Clean Election Law

First problems with the previous and now dead Clean Elections law:

1.  While there was a significant amount of money available, if you didn’t qualify, and it isn’t easy to qualify, you were stuck.  Either, you run under the individual contribution limits, look like you are
sticking to your principles and raise little money or you chuck the limits and look like an inexperienced opportunist.

2.  Most voters don’t pay attention to campaigns until Sept., but the law required that a candidate be certified in April/May.  The primary isn’t even until Sept.  Setting things up this way helps people who already have a large network, or are willing to sacrifice everything for the first part of the year to build a network.  If you have a family & job, i.e. are a citizen who isn’t an activist, you don’t have
the time for this and you might as well not apply.

3.  It was never clear to me how a write-in candidate qualifies. Looks like they don’t.  Another strike against the now defunct system.

What is different with the new proposed law

The new system still suffers from these problems, but adds an additional hurdle to qualify (the aggregate contribution threshold) and doesn’t give you much money to run a campaign. 

The aggregate contribution threshold requires that in addition to a state rep. candidate getting 200 people to give a contribution, she also has to raise a total of $5000.  For state senate, both requirements are doubled.

Under the Clean Elections Law a candidate would get a large amount of money if they had a primary opponent and more if they had a general election opponent.  The proposed law would limit the amount given out to three dollars for every one dollar the candidate raises.  Under this scheme, it is unclear to me how a candidate gets more public money after they comply should they raise more money.

How I would make the proposed law better

Since the law changes from a lump sum to a matching format, which is a reasonable, though not ideal change, I would suggest that the law give people much more time to qualify, drop the aggregate contribution limit and drop the established opponent requirement.

1.  How about a candidate can qualify up to two weeks (a month max) before general election day?  If you cannot get things organized before then, well sorry, the OCPF (the nice folks who oversee the Commonwealth’s election laws) needs to be able to process the paperwork.  If you do not make it past the primary, then less paperwork, unless you mount a write-in campaign.

This way, write-ins get supported, candidates have more time to get organized and more people will be encouraged to run.

2.  I would also drop the aggregate contribution threshold.  If some state rep candidate gets 200 people to give them $5, then the max the state is out is $3000.  No great loss to the Commonwealth considering the money we waste in corporate subsidies and tax loopholes.  Indeed it would still take 5 such candidates to use the same amount of money as one candidate under the proposed aggregate contribution threshold.  However, my guess with our winner take all election system (whomever has the most votes wins even if that isn’t a majority), having an incumbent face five poorly financed opponents in a primary is more likely to unseat the incumbent than one moderately financed opponent.

3.  Drop the requirement to have an established opponent.  I would rather that some Dem has no opponent and gets clean election money (the remainder they have to give back at the end of the election anyway), then some Dem has no opponent and takes boat loads of money from developers and the rich so they can amass a war chest.  If they use too much public money, well then their opponent can use that against them in two years.  This way also does not penalize a complying candidate who faces a serious write-in candidate coming in at the last minute.

Those are my thoughts for now.

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